Lean and Mean

Before You Buy

Despite the benefits, thin clients are not for everyone. For instance, you wouldn't want to saddle a temperamental, ZIP drive-using graphics professional with one. Thin clients are more appropriate for a call center that takes orders than a design firm. Employees who demand the power and flexibility of a PC won't mix well with restrictive thin clients.

And although one central machine is convenient and easy to service, it's still vulnerable to potential problems. If the server goes down, it will take all the thin clients with it. Also, as with most networks, when there's unusually high demand on the server, everything on the network will slow down.

Most of the thin clients in our chart feature 233MHz processors. That may sound slow by today's Pentium IV standards, but the processing power that matters most resides on the server, not the clients. A faster processor would only net you a slight performance increase. Likewise, thin clients require less RAM than typical desktop PCs, but their Ethernet connections must provide fast access to the central server.

When figuring costs, remember to add $200 to $300 for a 17-inch monitor for each machine; our chart only contains the thin clients themselves. The server you choose will depend on the number of thin clients you install, what programs they'll be running and the demands of your business. Server prices begin at $1,500 and vary widely. That's where it pays to consult either an independent firm or the company from which you plan to purchase your arsenal. Dell, for example, offers thin-client consulting services as well as servers and devices.

If you think thin clients will fit your business, do some research before replacing your current desktops or outfitting new workstations. They just might pay your company back with lower implementation costs and fewer IT headaches.

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This article was originally published in the July 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lean and Mean.

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